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An Introduction to Substance Use Disorders for Dental Professionals

Course Number: 545

Alcohol Use & Addiction

In 2019, 50.8% of Americans age 12 and older had used alcohol at least once in the 30 days prior to being surveyed, 23.9% had binged (5+ drinks within 2 hours), and 5.8% drank heavily (5+ drinks on 5+ occasions). In the 12-17 age range, 9.4% had consumed at least one drink in the 30 days prior to being surveyed, 4.9% had binged, and 0.8% drank heavily. 45,47,52

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is the intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. A standard drink (12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces [a “shot”] of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor [gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey]) contains 0.6 ounces of pure ethanol.

Alcohol affects every organ in the body as well as damages a developing fetus. Intoxication can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease. Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work.30

Among the 139.7 million current alcohol users aged 12 or older in 2019, 65.8 million people (47.1 percent) were past month binge drinkers. Among past month binge drinkers, 16.0 million people (24.4 percent of current binge drinkers and 11.5 percent of current alcohol users) were past month heavy drinkers. 45